Illinois Wesleyan Ranks High for Students Abroad

Illinois Wesleyan student Ryan Reimer joins friends in a playful pose holding up the Tower of Piza in Italy.

March 12, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Illinois Wesleyan University is opening international doors.

The University ranked in the top 40 of the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) most recent Open Doors report, which looks at the number of total students studying abroad and international students and scholars coming to the United States. Illinois Wesleyan ranked 37 in the nation among baccalaureate institutions for the total number of students studying abroad during the 2005-2006 academic year.

Open Doors is an apt title of the report because of the opportunities students receive, said Stacey Shimizu, interm director of the International Office at Illinois Wesleyan. “We’re preparing students for global citizenship, and studying abroad is a key tool for that,” Shimizu said of students who take part in study programs and faculty-led coursework abroad. This semester, there are 56 students spending semesters studying abroad, and 52 students from other countries studying at Illinois Wesleyan.

Studying abroad can come in the guise of a year-long exchange, a semester in foreign halls through the multitude of programs with the International Office, or an intensive few weeks with a May Term travel course. “They have access to so many programs here, that students can fill almost any need,” said Shimizu.

During their travels, students find themselves immersed in new cultures and ancient histories. From the mountains of the Middle East to the wetlands of Australia, many students discover their future in traveling abroad, or simply discover something about themselves.

Lindsey Haines

Lindsey Haines and Scottish
MSP Patricia Ferguson

Scotland and Parliament

During her time abroad sophomore Lindsey Haines learned one thing about her future. “I definitely learned I do not want to hold public office. I could not be under that kind of scrutiny,” said Haines, who spent a semester in Edinburgh, Scotland, as an intern for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. “If I do go into politics, I’ll need to be behind the scenes.” Haines, an economics and political science double major, said she was surprised by the intimate feel of the Parliament offices in Scotland.

“In the United States, if you intern for a Senator, you might sit and type for six weeks,” said Haines, a Crete, Ill., native. “In Edinburgh, I was in an office with [the MSP] Patricia Ferguson and her secretary – that was it. I was able to do field work and conduct interviews for housing research that was actually used in creating policy. It was amazing.”

Oman and mountains

When abroad, students can break barriers or become ambassadors of our own culture. Steve Trzyna’s decision to travel abroad came as no surprise to the parents of the senior, especially when he switched his major from biology to international studies major, with an intent of joining the Marines. His choice of destination, however, did surprise them. “When I told my parents I wanted to travel to Oman, my mom looked at me and said, ‘That’s nice. Are you sure you don’t want to go to Spain or Australia like everyone else?’” Trzyna, the first Illinois Wesleyan student to study in the Middle Eastern country on the Arabian Peninsula, knew he wanted to learn Arabic, and was lured by the beauty of Oman’s mountains and beaches. “I’ll never forget the landscape or the people there,” said Trzyba.

Overwhelmed by the friendly nature of the people of Oman, Trzyna came to think of himself as an ambassador for Americans. “The stereotypes of Americans are pretty poor,” he said. “This was a chance for us to really learn from each other."

Australia and mangroves

Kristin Russo also found her future abroad – in the swampy lands of Australia. The senior from Elk Grove, Ill., originally intended to pursue veterinarian school after she graduated from Illinois Wesleyan, until she took a class on conservation. “I just fell in love with environmental science, and found myself taking as many classes as I could,” said Russo, a double major in biology and French.

Her studies led her to a semester abroad studying the coast of Queensland, Australia, where she discovered mangroves, the swampy areas between the coast and land. “They are muddy and dirty and just fun,” said Russo, who now plans a career in ecological conservation and will study abroad again this fall, this time focusing on replenishing mangroves in Madagascar.

Kristin Russo

Kristin Russo literally took to the mangroves in Australia.

Nozomi Oka

Nozomi Oka did more than hit the books duirng her stay, joining the Illinois Wesleyan Symphony Orchestra.

The U.S. and homework

Nozomi Oka’s impression of the United States was far from poor, it was what led her to take a year away from her home in Japan and travel to Illinois Wesleyan. “The liberal arts education in the United States is pretty famous in Japan,” said the Keio University student, who chose Illinois Wesleyan to study business and American life. “

Classes in Keio are all big lecture halls with no homework and one exam at the end,” said Oka. “Here it is small classes, a lot of homework, and I’ve never been more challenged or excited about the work I’m doing,” she said.

One of her favorite elements of being an exchange student is hanging out with others from across the globe. “When I walk into a dining hall, there are always other international students there,” said Oka, who has joined the Illinois Wesleyan Symphony Orchestra and the Illinois Wesleyan Dance Team during her year here. “No matter where I am on campus, I always feel at home.”

Korea and Thanksgiving

Being homesick while abroad is natural for any student, but it is often tempered by incredible memories that are fashioned through travel. For David Joung, a junior biology major, a defining moment of his time abroad came when he stood over the gravestones of his grandparents in Korea for the first time. “We were celebrating Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving,” said Joung, who was born in Korea, but moved to the Philippines with his parents when he was five, not returning to the country of his birth until last fall on a semester-long exchange. “It’s a tradition to get together with family, just like here, but you visit the graves of your ancestors and honor them with food and drink and gifts. It was an experience.”

Joung, who plans to pursue a career in dentistry, took courses in at Yonsei University in Seoul City, Korea. But Joung found more studying abroad than discussions on genetics and biochemistry. “The entire experience gave me confidence,” he said. “It was learning another language – I didn’t remember speaking Korean when I was a child – and interacting with people of Korean culture that was enlightening and empowering.”

Venice and performances

Sophomore Liz Schwarzrock remembers sitting in a very old church in Venice, and watching a crowd go wild – for an orchestra. “It was flawless classical music, and the performers had fun. The audience just went nuts,” said the performance theatre major from Edina, Minn., “As a performer, to see how well-respected performances are in Europe is eye-opening experience.” Schwarzrock studied museums and cathedrals in Italy and Austria on a May term travel course, which combines a week of classes in Bloomington with an intensive several weeks in a foreign country.  She professes she caught the “travel bug,” and plans on going to Japan this May Term with one of her professors from the School of Theatre Arts. “My last trip was one to take in a different culture, this one will be combining my major with travel.” The class, titled Domo Ari – Got To Go To Japan, will focus on Asian philosophies of energy and movement of the body.

Italy, Austria, Australia and opera

Ryan Reimer’s love of travel came with his first May Term travel course studying the museums and cathedrals of Italy and Austria. “The first day we walked a couple of blocks from our hotel, and there was the Coliseum. It was the first thing we saw, practically right outside our window.” A computer science major, Reimer said May Term travel course offered him the chance to travel and explore outside his field of study. “As a compute science major, there really is no course benefit to me taking an entire semester off, so May Term was perfect,” said the senior from Lindenhurst, Ill. Reimer confesses he caught the travel abroad bug, and has also taken a second May Term trip to Australia and New Zealand. He plans a third this May to China and Korea. “It’s an intensive, but highly organized experience,” said Reimer, who had the rare opportunity to visit the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and hold a koala bear. “I know I will never get a chance again to see and learn these many things, and with a group of people my age. I’m seeing the world with my friends.”

Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960